By Benjamin G. Davis, Associate Professor of Law, University of Toledo College of Law
(Update 2/6 – A remarkable interview with Michael Ratner, President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights. He brings together the FOUR films seeking to rehabilitate the CIA (having seen Manhunt just shown at Sundance where the actual CIA agents are shown in the documentary and appeared on stage, Zero Dark Thirty, Argo, and Green Zone), torture, War in Iraq, the meaning of Obama’s lack of prosecution for torture, the irony of the Khost attack on CIA, the military commissions and the drone wars (Dirty Wars shown at Sundance). A riveting 17 minutes.
A must watch.)
When I returned Saturday from Guantanamo watching the 9/11 Military Commission, I saw over at opiniojuris.org and lawfareblog.com, a link to the presentation on January 31, 2013 at the American Enteprise Institute on Zero Dark Thirty from the point of view of CIA veterans directly involved in the CIA detention program.
(Here is the William Saletan of Slate article summarizing it http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/human_nature/2013/01/the_case_for_torture_ex_cia_officials_explain_enhanced_interrogations.single.html) and here is the video of the C-Span program http://www.c-span.org/Events/CIA-Veterans-Debate-Accuracy-of-Film-39Zero-Dark-Thirty39/10737437658-1/ )
The program had Mark Thiessen, (American Enterprise Institute Fellow, Bush era speechwriter and bookwrite on torture who is now with the Washington Post I believe), Michael Hayden (former Director of the CIA and the NSA), Jose Rodriguez (former Director of the CIA Clandestine Service) and John Rizzo (former Acting General Counsel of the CIA).
Having called out the apologists for torture two months ago in light of the announcement of the still classified Senate Intelligence Committee Report on the Enhanced Interrogation Program of December 13, 2012 that concluded the program was both ineffective and counterproductive in the War with Al-Qaeda, I was curious to see what their take would be on these issues through the lens of Zero Dark Thirty.
As they and others have been doing for nearly twelve years, this group of apologists for torture were masterful in their presentation of what happened. Let’s look at the new version.
The new version was quite a package.
1) Now, the omniscient “we” knew the answers to the questions asked of the detainees when they were subject to the enhanced interrogation techniques. The enhanced interrogation techniques were about breaking these detainees and making them compliant. The debriefing after the techniques was the source of information.
2) Having these people in black sites permitted the cross-checking of information across the detainees.
3) The program helped as part of a mosaic of intelligence to get Osama Bin Laden and there were so many others that were gotten thanks to the interrogation program.
4) The interrogators had to get authorization for each step they took (the mother may I approach) and were not allowed to improvise.
5) The enhanced interrogation techniques were not torture as the lawyers had shown in their legal analysis.
6) Deatinees agreed we should do it to the brothers to “help” them meet their religious obligations.
7) Finally, if one rejects this program, one has to reject the 9/11 Commission report which contains information gleaned from these interrogations of detainees.
8) A band of sisters are the one’s who should get the credit.
Gone was the ticking time bomb we heard about so many years ago. Gone was the focus on the enhanced interrogation techinques getting us the actionable intelligence – we knew the answers to the questions we asked when we used the enhanced interrogation techniques.
We were dispassionate not panicked. Michael Hayden was the compelling witness who had reviewed the program after it stopped – dispassionately of course – and concluded that the President should have it in the American arsenal. An important reason for that was the comment of one who had been tortured – Abu Zubaydah – that it should be done to all of the “brothers” because it freed them of their religious obligation to resist.
The supine audience listened attentively, seemed to laugh at appropriate moments, and asked softball questions that were only matched in their meekness by the softball questions of the moderator.
So, we are to be lulled by this new version of what happened into acquiescing in these techniques being part of the arsenal of democracy, according to these apologists for torture.
But, these arguments do not stand up to the ruthless eye of the citizen. Back in the day we were regaled with the need to do this to get actionalble intelligence with the bandying about of the ticking time bomb hypothesis. The ticking time bomb hypothesis is now morphed into something less imminent which was the fear of a second wave about which they had no knowledge. So no more were we facing the ticking time bomb but more a fear of a second wave about which we were ignorant. Stretching the imminence issue let’s us see more panic than urgency operating here.
As to our ignorance, gone are the briefings of Richard Clarke, the counter-terrorism expert in the White House, running around in the months before 9/11 with his hair on fire warning about Al-Qaeda. We were ignorant becomes the mantra rather than we simply disregarded the warnings given.
The sense of panic at having been caught with their pants down does come through along with the need to find out information. But, no longer are the enhanced interrogation techniques there to get actionable intelligence. They are there to soften up “defiant” detainees. In a word, to break the detainees to make them compliant. The FBI and Military Interrogators who did not use the enhanced interrogation techniques but were able to make detainees compliant are now absent from this particular story. Breaking only requires this kind of violence in the minds of these three characters. Ali Soufian proved that long before these people were in the game.
The black sites are made necessary as a a place to compare notes on detainees information and to listen to detainees conversations. That the same comparing and listening can be done at places that are not black sites where people are disappeared is absent from the picture. Those kinds of alternatives do not speak to the techniques but to the place where people were held. Again, the techniques that were so important before turn out to be less important as a source of actionable intelligence – it is holding and listenting to compliant detainees that is now the key. The black sites are a CIA macho space – not some necessity. Gone is the need to get all these allies stained by their compliance with our panic. Rather, it starts to look like we are trying to sully them up a bit as more cover for our panicked reaction.
The weakness of the legal analyses that underpinned the conclusion that these techniques were not torture is absent from these fellows picture. According to them, because some lawyer wrote an awful legal analysis that said it was not torture, then it was not torture. Gone was the withdrawal of the legal analysis and its discrediting in the eyes of the world. That they suspended reasoned analysis in a game of just getting a mouthpiece to put on paper the right words in a bureaucratic protection game is made more patently obvious.
That Hayden relied much on torture favorable statements of Abu Zubaydah – a detainee subject to torture so not exactly even the most minimally neutral objective source – seems to have served as a palliative for Hayden’s rationalizations, but hardly a credible basis upon which to set an independent review. Sounds like the most vulnerable was made to participate in his degradation which was in then used as a basis to continue the degradation. Sickening, like it was some kind of consensual torture.
And, of course, with the 9/11 report comment, gone is the point that the 9/11 Commission was not made aware of the Al Qahtani torture tapes notwithstanding their requests. They were carefully hidden rather than volunteered and, then, destroyed by the same Rodriguez that is trying to make us think none of this is torture.
So, we listen to these types and in our inimitable American way we are supposed to go around in another circle taking the statements of these people who are of course serious men at face value because, you know, they are warriors to protect us. And, in case we are getting a little to macho, there is the reference to the women – the band of sisters – who were analysts on this and did a splendid job. Now, hiding behind their skirts as with Maya as hero becomes a new feminism as torture rationalization. As Maya was passed over for promotion in this boys’ club somehow does not get into the picture.
Another weird part about this presentation is that I am allowed to see this on C-span and it is rebroadcast several times. Down at Gitmo, the worries about the original classification agency (read CIA at least) concerns are so heavy in the 9/11 Military Commission that it appears the someone other than the judge or the Court Security Officer has a finger on a button to shut down the feed to the gallery and outside when “sensitive information” is being discussed. Moreover, the words of detainees about the exact same information that these four lascars (in French) are allowed to bandy about on the bandwith would immediately be shut off.
To the ruthless eye of the citizen these hail fellows are selling a bill of goods in torture propaganda and not any truth about the enhanced interrogation program. So, I reject their new version as I have rejected their earlier versions and call again for an independent prosecutor to bring them to justice for the illegality they so easily celebrate.
Their immorality should not be so easily vaunted, and their false story should not be let so uncritically to flow to the ordinary American citizen. Same with Zero Dark Thirty.
And, in case you wonder, they have not projected Zero Dark Thirty at Gitmo. Maybe, that in itself tells us something about its truth.